I am currently in the midst of a massive Western exodus with a dear friend: a multi-state, 10 day, old fashioned road trip, with a focus on the California coast. After blowing through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada, our first stop in California was in Laguna Beach, where we were warmly welcomed into my friend’s mother’s beachside apartment. After all of that driving, we enjoyed a great conversation, a few (i.e. many) drinks, and roasted vegetable pizza with our gracious host. We then slept peacefully as the waves lapped the shore beneath our sacred, waterfront nest. In the morning, we left that haven for LA, to be once again welcomed by excellent hosts, my aunt and uncle, who have been living in the Valley for 30 years.
The four of us sat around their kitchen table, libations in hand, discussing dinner options, amongst other things. The Valley is a Mecca of ethnic food, and we ran the through the litany of choices. I have a hyper focus on eating sushi when I’m in LA because, being from the Midwest, it’s the best I’ve ever had. There is nothing like the combination of unctuous, rich fish enveloped in al dente, short grain rice, especially when the fish was caught within driving distance of the sushi bar. We decided on Brothers Sushi, where I haven’t been since I was a freshman in college; we proceeded to slurp our cocktails and engage in raucous banter until we were ready to eat.
Piled in the car, we pulled up to Brothers; to our dismay, it is closed on Mondays. While we were all disappointed, we soldiered down the street to another old time, LA spot: Monty’s Steak House. It’s reminiscent of an earlier era, and it apparently boasts quite the singles’ scene for the over 50 crowd. We sat in the dining room, and proceeded to ruin the evening of at least 20 restaurant patrons with our loud and obnoxious antics. As individuals, each member of my family is quite loud. When we gather, the volume amplifies exponentially. The manager made the mistake of seating us in the center of the dining room, and then we proceeded to make some enemies, but it was all in the name of good fun.
We drank a robust and round cabernet, and gorged ourselves on old school steakhouse fare. We had a variety of entrees at the table, and I have included pictures of everything. They are not the finest photography; however, a sub-par photo is better that none at all. Also, the presentation is yet another clue as to how old school this establishment truly is. You won’t find a speck of parsley for garnish, and while some of our food may look decidedly monochromatic, our meals were artful in their simplicity, buttery and familiar.
I chose a California delicacy, known as sand dabs. It’s a species of flatfish that is most common in the San Francisco area, but can be found by lucky restaurant-goers in LA. It is a small, delicate fish, and it requires some finesse to filet. The meat is sweet, and both firm and tender. It is reminiscent of a cross between jumbo lump crabmeat and lake perch; it was breaded in panko and pan-fried, served with house-made tartar sauce, lemon, and a mountain of sautéed spinach. My aunt mentioned that she felt I had the best thing at the table, and I did truly enjoy it. The tartar sauce was quite good, but the fish was so good that I hardly made a dent in it. It was a winning flavor-texture combo, and clearly different from your usual white fish dinner.
My friend, Jean, had the steakhouse chili. Jean is a fiend for foods that include meat, cheese, and spice, and little else; thus, chili is somewhat of a Holy Grail for her. The waitress informed us that it was a “two meat chili,” yet she couldn’t define this concept any further. Given how little our server knew about it, I have a feeling it might not be a very popular menu item, but we all really enjoyed it. Simple and tender, it was mostly meat, peppered with a few beans, and very red in color. In addition to the usual chili powder, it had some sort of mysterious spice that is not commonly found in chili, which imparted one of my favorite flavors: je ne said quoi.
My uncle ordered a classic: chopped steak with onions. This is essentially a hamburger made with steak, rendering it one of the best hamburgers’s ever had. In fact, a chopped steak is so good, that despite it’s striking resemblance to a pedestrian burger, one would never dream of putting it on a bun, or adorning it with any of the other usual burger suspects. In my experience as an eater and as a server (both extensive), I’m not sure if I have ever witnessed someone under the age of 60 order a chopped steak. It is a dish of a different generation, but I must say it is truly delicious, and perhaps this can be a lesson to us all, so the chopped steak can make a righteous comeback.
Lastly, my aunt ordered a beautiful plate of sea scallops, seared, topped with roasted garlic, and served with angel hair in a buttery white wine sauce. The scallops were tender, sweet, and served medium, which is absolutely proper. We then doused the pasta with freshly grated Parmesan. Being that my aunt is very generous and I am famous for carb-loading, I ate about 95% of the delicate strands of pasta, in addition to over half of my own meal. I am truly a disgusting creature, but when it comes to food, I abide by the “go big or go home” philosophy. On vacation, I rarely choose the latter.